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Maria Josepha of Saxony
Dauphine of France
Spouse Louis-Ferdinand, Dauphin of France
Louis XVI of France
Louis XVIII of France
Charles X of France
Clothilde, Queen of Sardinia
Madame Élisabeth
Full name
Maria Josepha Carolina Eleanor Francesca Xaveria
Father Augustus III of Poland
Mother Maria Josepha of Austria
Born 4 November 1731(1731-11-04)
Dresden Castle, Dresden, Saxony, Modern day Germany
Died 13 March 1767 (aged 35)
Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France

Maria Josepha of Saxony, Dauphine of France (Dresden, 4 November 1731 – Versailles, 13 March 1767) was a Duchess of Saxony by birth and a French Princess by marriage to Louis Ferdinand de France at the age of 15; he was the Dauphin of France, son and heir of Louis XV.

She was the mother of three kings of France, including the doomed Louis XVI, who died under the guillotine during the French Revolution. Her youngest daughter, Madame Élisabeth, also was beheaded during the Revolution.



Born in Dresden Castle, on 4 November, 1731 to Frederick Augustus II, Prince-Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, and of Maria Josepha of Austria, the daughter of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor. Her birth made her a Duchess in Saxony. Her mother was a first cousin of Maria Theresa of Austria, who in turn was the mother of Maria Josepha's future daughter-in-law Marie Antoinette. as well as Barbara of Portugal, Queen of Spain.

Maria Josepha was the fourth daughter and the eighth child of 15. Her oldest sister Maria Amalia Christina married the future Charles III of Spain in 1738 and had a large family. Her second sister Maria Margaretha died in infancy; Maria Anna Sophia became the Electress of Bavaria in 1747. Her eldest surviving brother Frederick Christian became the Elector of Saxony in 1763 after a reign of only 74 days.

As noted, her oldest sister Maria Amalia had married a Spanish Prince Charles in 1738. He was a member of the House of Bourbon. The Dauphin of France had been married to the Infanta Maria Teresa Rafaela of Spain February 1745. The couple had been very happy together and deeply in love. The Infanta, known as Marie-Thérèse-Raphaëlle in France had died on 22 July 1746 after giving birth to a daughter, the couple's only child Princess Marie-Thérèse of France. Ferdinand VI of Spain, half brother of the deceased Marie-Thérèse-Raphaëlle had offered another Bourbon Princess Infanta Maria Antonietta. Despite this, Louis XV and his all powerful mistress Madame de Pompadour wanted to open up diplomatic channels.


Marie-Josèphe de Saxe

The marriage between Maria Josepha and the Dauphin of France had first been suggested by Maria Josepha's uncle Maurice de Saxe, an illegitimate son of Maria Josepha's grandfather Augustus II.Louis XV and his mistress, were convinced that the marriage would be advantageous to French foreign affairs. The War of the Austrian Succession in which France and Saxony had been on opposing sides and thus the marriage between the Saxon princess and the Dauphin of France would form an alliance between the two nations.

There was one problem with the suggested bride; Maria Josepha's grandfather Augustus II had dethroned Stanisław Leszczyński (then the Duke of Lorriane). Stanisław was the father of the then Queen of France Maria Leszczyńska. The marriage was said to have humiliated the simple living Queen even though the Queen and the Dauphine would later get on well.

Other proposals came from Savoy in the form of Princess Eleonora of Savoy or her sister Princess Maria Luisa of Savoy[1]. Both were refused.

Despite the disapproval of the Queen, the two were married on 9 February 1747, Maria Josepha of Saxony married Louis Ferdinand de France, Dauphin of France and Fils de France. Her marriage to a Fils de France [Son of France] allowed Maria Josepha the style of Royal Highness, the right to travel and lodge wherever the king did as well as the coveted right of dining with him with an armchair in his presence. However in practice, the Dauphine was addressed as Madame la Dauphine, the more traditional French style prevailing at Versailles till the Revolution.

In France the Saxon princess was known as Marie-Josèphe de Saxe.

Marie-Josèphe by Jean-Martial Frédou, 1760
Allegory of Maria Josepha and her daughter Marie Zéphyrine, by Charles-Joseph Natoire, c.1751.

Prior to the marriage, tradition demanded that the bride wear a bracelet which had a picture of her father on it; the Queen seeing the Dauphine asked to see the bracelet. The witty Marie-Josèphe then revealing the bracelet to the Queen showed a portrait of the Queen's father. The Dauphine said that the portrait represented the fact that the Duke of Lorraine was Marie-Josèphe's grandfather by marriage. The Queen and the court were strongly impressed by the tact of this girl of 15 years. The Dauphine was also very close to her father-in-law Louis XV.

At the time of the marriage, the Dauphin was still grieving for his Spanish wife. This grief was very public on the part of the Dauphin but Marie-Josèphe was praised greatly for her conquering the heart of the Dauphin "bit by bit". Despite Marie-Josèphe being the patient wife, the situation of the Dauphin's grieving worsened in April 1748 when the only child of Louis and the Infanta died at the age of 2.

The Dauphin was deeply affected by the death of Marie-Thérèse[2], as she was his only link with her deceased mother. Her stepmother later commissioned a painting (now lost)[3] of the infant to be left over her cradle.

The new Dauphine was very grateful to Madame de Pompadour for helping to arrange her marriage, and always remained on a good relationship with the royal mistress. Although it was an arranged marriage, Marie-Josèphe fell in love with the Dauphin.

Like her husband, Marie-Josèphe was very devout. Together with Queen Maria Leszczyńska, she formed a counterbalance to the libertine behaviour of her father-in-law and his court. The couple were not fond of the various entertainments held at Versailles every week preferring to stay in their apartments which can still be seen on the ground floor of Versailles overlooking the Orangerie.

The couple's first child was a daughter named Marie Zéphyrine who was born in 1750. The birth of the Princess known as Madame Royale was greeted with much joy by her parents even thought Louis XV had naturally been disappointed the child not being a male. This princess died in 1755 not even having been mourned - a French princess had to live at least 5 years[4]. Their second child, Louis Joseph Xavier de France, a son born on 15 September 1751, was given the title of duc de Bourgogne, a title traditionally given to the eldest son of the Dauphin of France. Bourgogne was the apple of his parents' eye. His talents appeared early and inspired hope for the future in the hearts of the entire court. He was adored by his older sister Marie Zéphyrine and he adored her too.

Unfortunately, the royal couple concentrated so much time and energy on this eldest son that their other children suffered from neglect. He died on 22 March 1761 at the age of nine at Versailles after having fallen from a toy horse. He started limping and a tumour began to grow on his hip. This was operated on, but he never recovered the use of his legs. He was buried at the Basilica of St Denis.

Since the couple's second son, Xavier de France, duc d'Aquitaine born in 1753, had died a year later. As a result, their third son, Louis Auguste de France, duc de Berry, born on 23 August 1754, became second in line to the French throne after his father. A strong and healthy boy, although very shy, he excelled in his studies and had a strong taste for Latin, history, geography, and astronomy, and became fluent in Italian and English. Louis Auguste would later become King of France being orphaned at the age of 12.

Thanks to the close relationship of Marie-Josèphe with the King and Dauphin, the relationship between father and son soon repaired itself. The Dauphin was at the center of the Dévots, a group of religiously-minded men who hoped to gain power when he succeeded to the throne. They were against the way of Louis XV who openly had affairs at court and in blatant view the Queen. Naturally they were not popular with Louis XV.

Her father-in-law named his loving daughter-in-law la triste "Pepe"; in 1754 Frederick II of Prussia invaded her native Saxony and that started the Seven Years' War in which France later joined. Saxony was pillaged by Frederick. Then in 1757 her mother died aged 58 in Dresden. Her father would die in 1763.

Politically reserved, she exerted herself only once, in 1762, in vain, for the preservation of the Jesuits in France. The Society had been dissolved by the King on the initiative of the duc de Choiseul and Madame de Pompadour.


The death of her husband, on 20 December, 1765, dealt Marie-Josèphe a devastating blow from which she never recovered, sinking into a deep depression for the rest of her life. Her sisters by marriage, Mesdames Adélaïde, Victoire, and Sophie mourned intensely. The Queen grieved greatly.

To save her the torment of remaining with bittersweet memories of her dead husband, Louis XV allowed her to move her apartments at Versailles from those she had shared with her deceased spouse into the apartments of the late Madame de Pompadour, who had died in 1764. There, he visited her more than he had in the past and discussed with her the possible wedding of her son, the new dauphin. Marie-Josèphe was not taken with the idea of her eldest son marrying Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria[5].

Soon, her health declined. She died on 13 March 1767 of tuberculosis, and was buried in the royal crypt in Saint-Denis. The marriage of her son Louis Auguste with Maria Antonia was celebrated three years later.


Name Portrait Lifespan Notes
Marie Zéphyrine de France
Madame Royale
Marie Zéphirine de France par Nattier.jpg 26 August 1750 -
1 September 1755
Born at Versailles, she was known as Madame Royale at court; died at Versailles aged 5
Louis Joseph Xavier de France
Duke of Burgundy
Louis Joseph Xavier of France, Duke of Burgundy.jpg 13 September 1751-
22 March 1761
Heir of the Dauphin, he died at Versailles aged 9 much to the distress of his family;
Xavier Marie Joseph de France
Duke of Aquitaine
Grand Royal Coat of Arms of France.svg 8 September 1753 –
22 February 1754
Born at the Palace of Versailles dying there aged 5 months;
Louis Auguste de France
King of France
Duke of Berry
Ludvig XVI av Frankrike porträtterad av AF Callet.jpg 23 August 1754 –
21 January 1793
Born at Versailles, was later husband of Marie Antoinette and King of France; had issue;
Louis Stanislas Xavier de France
King of France
Count of Provence
JoungLouisXVIII.jpg 17 November 1755 –
16 September 1824
Born at Versailles, he married Princess Marie Josephine Louise of Savoy and had no issue; later King of France;
Charles Philippe de France
King of France
Count of Artois
Charles X Roi de France et de Navarre.jpg 9 October 1757 –
6 November 1836
Born at Versailles, he married Princess Maria Theresa of Savoy and had issue; was later King of France;
Marie Adélaïde Clotilde Xavière de France
Queen of Sardinia
Madameclotilde.jpg 23 September 1759 –
7 March 1802
Born at Versailles, she married the future Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia and had no issue;
Élisabeth Philippine Marie Hélène de France
Madame Élisabeth
Madame-elisabeth-2.jpg 3 May 1764 –
10 May 1794
Born at Versailles, she never married and was executed in the French Revolution aged 30;

Maria Josepha also had a stillborn son in 1748 and again in 1749. A stillborn daughter in 1752; Stillborn son in 1756. She also miscarried a son in 1762


See also

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

  • 4 November, 1731 - September, 1733 Her Highness Duchess Maria Josepha of Saxony
  • 9 February 1747 – 20 December 1765 Her Royal Highness the Dauphine of France (Madame la Dauphine [de France])
  • 20 December 1765 – 13 March 1767 Her Royal Highness the Dowager Dauphine of France

Maria Josepha's father held the title of king of Poland. However, children of Polish kings were explicitly forbidden the use of the title of prince or princess of Poland.


  1. ^ neice of the Queen of Spain of the same name
  2. ^ known as Madame Royale
  4. ^ Spawfourth. Tony, Versailles, New York, 2008, p.200-1
  5. ^ Future Marie Antoinette



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